A filmmaker’s delight — crowded house

How to organize and host successful screening events for your independent film or documentary

ideas and experiences from over 130 screenings

If you don’t have (and even if you have) a nationwide or international cinema distribution deal, organizing screening events is vital for your movie’s life cycle. Doing a movie screening event with Q&As is a great and fun way to promote your movie, connect personally with your audience, get face-to-face feedback and even earn some money.

People have thousands of options each night to spend their spare time. So why should they go and watch your movie?

You think you have got a great movie? Fine. But if you don’t promote your movie like hell and tell everybody that the filmmaker will present the movie personally in each city, you’ll end up with empty seats in the theater. No matter how good your indie movie is. That’s a rule. That’s reality.

So it’s fundamental to craft a very good strategy to prepare your screening events well.

How to fill more seats at your independent film or documentary screening events:

  1. Be aware of your cost structure
    Hosting single screening events or setting up a screening event tour costs more money than you would think. Normally theaters don’t give more than a 50% share of ticket sales to you. 60/40 to your favor if you are very lucky. From this 50% revenue you have to pay the print of your promotional material, you have to mail stuff (posters, leaflets, your DCP copy of the movie etc.) around the country and to each theater. You will have travel costs and daily allowances. Will you sleep on a couch or do you airbnb? So do your maths and calculate how much money a tour will cost you. And then start thinking how much it can earn you.
  2. Find tour sponsors for your screening tour
    A screening tour with personal attendance of crew/cast is expensive. If you don’t have additional funding or sponsors, the travel and organizational overhead will eat up all your hard earned profit margin. So try to find sponsors for your tour! Offer them to play a pre-roll clip in the theater before your screening. Ad their logo to your poster (‘presented by’) and leaflets. Put them on your facebook page / on your event page on facebook. You can also offer to give-away goodies or vouchers, use branded roll-ups in the theater. It’s key to offer potential sponsors a promotional package. They love to buy out-of-the-box offers. Don’t be stupid and just think they will sponsor you because you have a great movie. They sponsor you because they think that your great movie will attract potential customers. You sell your audience to them (I know you’ll hate what I say, but it’s true — so be realistic). So think: What does your sponsor get from their money? Which audience will they get access to? Answering these two questions will help you to find the RIGHT sponsors for your screening events.
    One more important fact about sponsors: They should not only give you money, they also have to give you access to their community. Brands often have great social media communities. They can promote your tour!
  3. Find partners and local supporters
    When crafting your film or documentary’s screening tour, take a close look at each host city. Is there a local partner you could team up with? For our first documentary — the surf movie The Old, the Young & the Sea — we were always looking for local surf/skate/snowboard shops in each city. They helped us reaching out to the surf community in their city and promoted the movie in their shop. Shops like to sell your tickets. This brings people to their store, obviously.
    So what’s your niche and your movie’s core audience? Can you find local bars, restaurants, shops or organizations that would support your cause?
    One last hint: You have a facebook fan page for your movie, right? Ask your community if they know local people in each host city who could help to promote your movie event.